posted 18 Mar 2013, 18:27 by Jim Sheng
[Li Ssu, 3rd century B.C., was for a long period prime minister and trusted adviser of the prince who finally annihilated the feudal system which prevailed under the Chou dynasty, and seated himself upon the throne as the First Emperor of China. It was then that Li Ssu suggested the entire destruction of existing literature, with a few trifling exceptions, in order to break off absolutely all connection with the past; a design which was rapidly carried into practical effect, though not to the extent which has been generally supposed, and from the operation of which the sacred books of Confucianism were saved only by the devotion of a few. Li Ssu was himself an accomplished scholar, and invented a form of writing which remained in vogue for several centuries, until superseded by the style now in use.] 


THE high officers of State had combined to persuade the Prince of Ch'in to dismiss all foreign nobles and other strangers from the Court, urging that such persons were there only in the interests of their masters. This proscription would have included me. I therefore sent up the following Memorial:  

May it please your Majesty, 

The present scheme for proscribing strangers is in every way a fatal step. Have we not innumerable examples in the past of the employment of foreigners, to the greater glory of the State and to the infinite advantage of the people? 

From the mountains of Tibet your Majesty receives jade; from elsewhere, jewels. Bright pearls, good blades, fine horses, kingfisher banners, triton-skin drums,  of such rarities not one is produced at home, yet your Majesty delights in all. But if nothing is to be used in future save local produce, then will rich pearls shine no more at Court, then will the elephant and the rhinoceros contribute their ivory no more, nor the ladies of Chao throng the Imperial hareem, nor sleek palfreys stand in the Imperial stables, nor gold, nor pewter-ware, nor brilliant hues glow within the Imperial walls. 

And if all, too, which adorns the seraglio, and ministers to the pleasure of eye and ear, must for the future be of local growth; then adieu to pearl-set pins, to jewelled ear-drops, to silken skirts and embroidered hems;  welcome the humble and the plain, there where beauty no longer reigns supreme. 

Take for instance our local music  shrill songs shrieked to earthen and wooden accompaniments  as compared with the magnificent harmonies of other States. Those we have rejected in favour of these, simply because the latter contributed most to the pleasure of sense. 

In the choice of men, however, this principle is not to prevail. There is to be no question of capacity or of incapacity, of honesty or of dishonesty. If he be not a native, he must go: all foreigners are to be dismissed. Surely this is to measure men by a lower standard than music and gems! No method this for stretching the rod of empire over all within the boundary of the sea. 

As broad acres yield large crops, so for a nation to be great there should be a great population; and for soldiers to be daring their generals should be brave. Not a single clod was added to T'ai-shan in vain: hence the huge mountain we now behold. The merest streamlet is received into the bosom of Ocean: hence the Ocean's unfathomable expanse. And wise and virtuous is the ruler who scorns not the masses below. For him, no boundaries of realm, no distinctions of nationality exist. The four seasons enrich him; the Gods bless him; and, like our rulers of old, no man's hand is against him. 

But now it is proposed to deliver over the black-haired people into the power of the foe. For if strangers are expelled, they will rally round the feudal princes. The leaders of the age will retire, and none will step forth to fill the vacant place. It is as though one should furnish arms to a rebel, or set a premium upon theft. 

Many things that are not produced here are nevertheless highly prized. Countless men who were not born here are nevertheless loyal of heart. Therefore to dismiss all foreigners will be to make our enemies strong; for those who suffer expulsion will go to swell the hostile ranks. There will be but hollowness within and bitterness without; and danger will never cease to menace the State. 

On reading the above, the Prince of Ch'in cancelled the edict respecting the proscription of foreigners, and I was restored to office.